All entries for August 2016

August 21, 2016

Slightly Amended Research Design

Since the research methodology chapter of the thesis is going to be around ten thousand to fifteen thousand words, it’s impossible to really explain all aspects of the research design in a blog post of less than a thousand words. Firstly because I’ll probably bore people to the point they would rather listen to One Direction, and secondly because understanding the relationship between all the components is a continuous and ongoing task.


The mixed methods variety has changed and the research is now encapsulated within a case study approach. The research design is now a critical realist multiple-case based sequential exploratory mixed methods design. So, why the change? The change came about through a conversation with the supervisor and the progress of the trial study.



Sequential Exploratory Mixed Methods

The trial study, as indicated in the previous blog post, has been and still is a serious, reflective exercise of the research activity and the research design. The previous preferred mixed methods flavour was concurrent triangulation meaning that the questionnaire data collection and analysis and grounded theory analysis would have been carried out at the same time, or concurrently.

This proved to be problematic during the trial study as it became apparent that the emerging theory’s constructs would not have been testable or explored further using the quantitative instrument. Why is this? Because the concurrent nature would have meant the construction of the questionnaire occurring before quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis, leaving no room for further amendments to it. This would have led to the research being susceptible to validity problems and potential gaps in the theory therefore the theory’s integrity, relevance, completeness and even generalisability would have been questioned. After returning to the research methodological literature (Ph.D. potentials reading this will come to know the iterative nature of the Ph.D.) I found that the sequential exploratory approach to be more suitable.

The sequential exploratory variety of mixed methods involves the qualitative phase occurring first therefore the grounded theory method shall be used to generate an emerging, developing theory from the data. The constructs that emerge from the data shall then be converted to a format suitable for development of a quantitative instrument (likely to be a questionnaire) and then the third phase shall be the quantitative phase where aspects of the theory shall be tested for generalisability across different contexts. This solves the identified problem therefore the quantitative instrument shall take into account constructs found in the literature along with constructs built from the grounded theory data, with in some cases both sets being used to support each other with regards to evidencing the need to explore certain constructs further.



Case Study

A case study has been defined in so many ways and can be used in various ways such as either a strategy or as a methodology. A case study enables the researcher to explore a particular case, or multiple cases, in substantial detail hence it is suitable for mixed methods research, in order to generate significant understanding of the phenomenon of interest. It is the depth of detail the case study brings to the research that makes it an attractive option. It is not usually famed for allowing generalisability of data but this is determined by the type of case study that is being used. Multiple-case study using mixed methods enables more of a generalizable approach to be considered.

For this research, case study shall be used as a general strategy for guiding the quantitative and qualitative phases of the mixed methods and their respective methods, whilst the case study strategy is being guided by critical realism.


This research shall adopt the variety known as a multiple-case study, which means that multiple cases or instances of the similar activity shall be explored using grounded theory (hence, a relationship between case study and grounded theory) in order to increase the validity of the findings, with the selection of the cases being determined by the findings of the first case. The multiple-case study has been deemed as appropriate given the nature of grounded theory’s approach towards sampling of data, and given the depth of detail that case study allows.


Summary thoughts

The blog post doesn’t do the research design justice, as for example I have only lightly touched on the relationship between critical realism, case study, mixed methods, and grounded theory. Understanding this relationship between the different components is ongoing and progressing and will be explained more in the upgrade paper and fully elaborated in the thesis. But it is enough on here to say that I am convinced that these amendments to the research are correct and the way that the design should be. But I must not have the mindset where I am absolutely sure that the research design is correct as it has to pass the upgrade assessment panel later this year.

It’s been challenging working towards the research design, but it’s been a rewarding experience. A key activity at this time is to further understand the relationship between critical realism, case study, mixed methods and grounded theory, and that is no easy feat.


So, the research design shall not change! Till next time, that is!


Thoughts On The Trial Study

Research designs and research activities need to be trialled before they are deemed appropriate for full research implementation to ensure their validity, fitness for task, fitness for purpose, and their reliability, and to make any amendments. Research activity within educational research is the task that research participants interact with, and the interaction between participants and task is the object of investigation. The trail study is effectively ensuring a fit between the activity and the design as best as possible so that the interactions between participants and tasks are captured as effectively as possible relative to the research problem and research questions.



Activity trial

In what way does the activity match the research problem? In what way will the activity facilitate the needed interactions between it and the participants in order to produce suitable data for analysis relevant to the research questions? There are no easy answers due to the dynamism of the human subjects. Even in experimental designs (to some extent depending on the specific design type), famed for allowing the researcher to have freedom of manipulation of the environment and variables, it is difficult to predict exactly what kind of interaction shall occur between participant and activity. An important objective of a trial study therefore is to ensure the activity is suitable and interesting enough to sustain interaction and generate enough data for analysis.


The activity of my research is collaborative therefore it was important to carry out a trial study to ensure interest among the participants and therefore their interactions with the activity is sustainable to the point where enough data can be generated for suitable analysis. Success criteria of any research activity varies widely depending on its type and the way in which it is used to assist with resolving a particular research problem, and can be determined therefore through understanding your research problem, your research questions and your research design.


I considered the trial of the activity a success not in terms of the quantity of participants but the quantity of the data: the activity was able to hold the attention of the participants to the point where enough data had been collected. The nature of the research design enabled this success due to its focus on the importance of the content of the activity and not the quantity of participants. Other research methods using the same activity would likely emphasise quantity of the participants.



Research design trial

Following the activity, the design was then trialled. It has to be emphasised that depending on the design, either a part or the whole design can be testable. Again, because of the nature of my research design only a part of the design is trialled at this time for the purpose of fulfilling the requirements of the upgrade paper, and also obviously because I want to make sure that it works! The other half of the design shall be trialled at a later time with that trial discussed in the thesis.

Essentially, in a sequential exploratory mixed method approach the qualitative phase occurs first followed by the quantitative phase. The findings from the qualitative phase, which in this case is based on grounded theory, shall be used to develop the methods of the quantitative phase. Reasons why are extensive and are beyond the point of this blog post, but essentially because of the nature of this design the grounded theory approach is being trialled first.


Are you still with me? Yes? Brilliant, if any person could explain to me what the heck I am talking about, answers on a post card to………


The first part of the research design trial, the grounded theory trial, is currently ongoing but initial thoughts and findings suggest that the grounded theory aspect is working and has really helped me to understand mixed methods research more to the point that I have altered the mixed methods variety for this research.



Summary thoughts

There has been a lot to understand and process regarding this trial study especially considering that now the trial study can actually turn into a case study as part of the multiple case study approach of the research. It has been, and is, challenging because I am not just doing the trail study as a slap on attachment to the upgrade paper. This has been and continues to be a serious, detailed, reflective exercise of my research design and research activity and has helped a lot with my understanding of the activity data, ways to approach the analysis and understand the data, and understand the effectiveness of the research approach.

The trail study has evidenced the fact that whilst it is extremely important to read the relevant literature around your research design for academic argumentation for and against (and with just grounded theory alone there is a wide variety of different arguments), it is just as important to simply try it out. It is because of this trying out of the design that I figured out a potential fault with the previous favoured mixed method variety, concurrent triangulation, fixable only through switching to another mixed method variety, the sequential explorative variety.


August 20, 2016

Research update

Been quite a while since I have written a blog post on here as there have been plenty of things going on to distract me, but now is time for a series of blog updates! The following is a brief overview of the key areas of activity, with further blog posts following that explore these in more detail.



Update on the Trial study


The trial study is based on trialling a collaborative activity and trialling a grounded theory approach adapted from the ideas of Strauss and Corbin. I say adapted because there are a variety of authors suggesting Strauss and Corbin’s version is too regimented and difficult to follow, but Strauss and Corbin did respond by suggesting their procedures for coding do not have to be followed through strictly, therefore researchers should logically and constructively apply grounded theory procedures relevant to the research context. I might alter aspects of the approach as the trail and the main thesis study continues.


The trial appears to be coming along well. As reported in earlier posts I managed to successfully carry out the trail activity so it is now the case of continuing to use grounded theory to learn about it more, and to learn about the data that I have collected. I am fascinated with grounded theory! Lots of information on grounded theory online but for now it suffices to say that grounded theory is a key methodology (or method: it can be viewed both ways depending on its purpose and position within the research design) in developing new conceptualisations, a new theory, or new theorising of the phenomenon of interest. This is challenging and I have the belief that in order to really be successful at this you have to be quite creative and able to think about data, events, observations and aspects of reality at an abstract level. You begin with exploring the data but you have to think about the data at a higher, abstract level. It’s about interpreting the data based on your observations, though the validity of these interpretations can be increased depending on the research design and the way in which existing literature is used. But despite it being challenging it is an exciting approach to exploring data.



Trial Study as the Thesis Study


The most significant feedback and conversations during the past month or so has been the idea of using the trail study as a thesis study, or acting as a case within the thesis study. This was and still is huge, because it effectively means that when I am exploring and coding the data not only am I exploring data to benefit the production of the upgrade paper but also to benefit the thesis and the research itself. This has been deemed feasible therefore I shall be using the activity as part of the thesis and also explore other activities, known in the thesis as cases, in order to locate differences and similarities, which shall increase the validity of the theorising and theory development.



Change of Research Design


This change has actually come about through working through the trial study. Previously I had mentioned about adopting a critical realist, concurrent triangulation variety of mixed methods where the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the study would be carried out at the same time. In other words, I would have been carrying out grounded theory analysis of the activity whilst collecting thoughts and beliefs of the learners at the same time and then integrate the findings and discussions.


The only aspect that has changed is the mixed methods variety: I’ve ditched the concurrent triangulation and adopted the sequential, exploratory variety. Briefly, during the trail study I was struggling with the way in which data from the grounded theory findings and questionnaire findings could merge due to the abstractness of grounded theory. There would have been a chance of new concepts and new conceptualisations emerging from the data but exploring them via quantitative measures would not have been possible because the quantitative phase would have started at the same time, or in other words concurrently.


Using a sequential exploratory approach enables the constructions and conceptualisations, the theory, to emerge first and then test these out using the questionnaire and generalise across a wider population. This makes a lot more sense than to carry out both threads concurrently given the potential for extra insights that would not have been possible to explore had the mixed methods approach remained unchanged.


I’ve also encapsulated the research into a multiple case study, therefore the research design is now a critical realist multiple case based sequential exploratory mixed methods design.



Progress on the Upgrade Paper


This has been rewritten more times than I care to remember and will be reread and edited in various places before actually handing it in. When I rewrite each section I ask myself why did I not think about things in a particular way and communicate in a particular way before. But that is the beauty of re editing: it makes you think and contemplate more as you go through the document and think if you can explain anything in a more concise, or more sophisticated way without dropping the meaning behind the text. I know this, but still, sometimes it takes me by surprise at the differences that are found between each modified version of a particular document.


Most of the sections are now complete. Only sections that need to be completed are the trial study section, and talk a bit more about potential problems and possible outcomes.

That’s the brief overview of the main things that have been going on during the past month or so!


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